Sometimes the answer to an age-old problem is sitting right in front of your nose. And in the search for a solution to the dreaded crosswind, Zipp found their answer literally all around us—in nature.
Admittedly when we first set eyes on Zipp’s 454 NSW Carbon Clincher, nature is the last thing that came to mind. But that’s the engineering inspiration for this unusually shaped wheel, specifically the pectoral fins of a humpback whale. Yes, that’s right, we said the humpback whale. But here us out…
Imagine a humpback whale gliding through the water with seemingly little effort for such a massive animal. And at the same time, a whale is able to take sharp turns very effectively when it’s feeding. All of this is thanks to something called tubercles along its pectoral fins. You also see the same kind of effect in the micro texture of a shark’s skin. These natural designs act as vortex generators, allowing water flow to remain attached to the animal’s fins, enabling quick, controlled maneuvers at speed.
And so, Zipp applied these same concepts to solving the complex challenge of designing a wheel that reduces both aerodynamic drag as well as side force.
There are a few unique design elements at work on the 454 NSW, and one of them is what Zipp calls SawtoothTM. This 53/58mm-deep rim shape (58mm at its deepest and 53mm at its shallowest) is what allows the 454 to defeat crosswinds as well as reduce drag. Sawtooth does this through a series of fin-shaped HyperfoilTM nodes found along the inner diameter of the rim, working together with Zipp’s HexFinTM ABLC dimples (the dimples have a hexagonal pattern to them). This combination helps to stabilize handling in gusty winds. Essentially, Zipp has harnessed the natural adaptations of the humpback whale to produce a wheel that is more stable, making you go faster, feel more comfortable, and expend less energy fighting your bike in the wind.
So, does it work? We honestly were a bit skeptical. But we did in fact notice a difference in handling that put a smile on our face, especially as we remembered that this tech was derived from a whale fin.
We rode the 454 over a period of months in various conditions, including wet, windy, and downright miserable. There was one day in particular that stood out to us while testing the 454s. A front was coming through South Florida, and we found ourselves out on the road getting hit with gusts up to 22mph. Our Multisport Editor, Tracy, happened to be on the 454s that day. As a lighter rider, she often has to use quite a bit of energy to stabilize the bike in gusty conditions. As the winds rolled through, she described the feeling atop the 454s like something of a catch-and-release effect. She’d feel the crosswind begin push, but then it was as if they’d let go, allowing her to easily stabilize the bike without a lot of effort.
And this is what Zipp claims makes the 454s so special. Simply making the wheel more stable will make you go faster because you’re more comfortable. The bike won’t fight you, you’ll bounce around less in gusty winds, and you can remain tucked nicely in your aero position. This is a big deal for riders who tend to sit up when the wind starts impacting their bike’s stability. This costs a rider mental and physical energy.
For those number crunchers among us, Zipp claims that the 454 offers a 5% reduction in side force, and a 15% reduction in crosswind feedback (compared to a 60mm-deep wheel).
In addition to the fantastic stability, these wheels stopped on a dime in both wet and dry conditions thanks to Zipp’s Showstopper textured brake track. You’ll also find the Cognition hub in the 454s for reduced coasting friction. Each wheel also includes:
- Zipp Tangente titanium black skewer
- Zipp valve extender by Silca®
- Zipp individual wheel bag
- Zipp Tangente Platinum Pro Evo brake pads
- Zipp Tangente tube 700c x 20-28mm
- Zipp rim tape 700c x 20mm
Now, as you can imagine, all this tech comes at a price. And it’s not a small one. The front wheel will run you $1,800, and you’ll need to come up with $2,200 for the rear wheel.
Now, as you can imagine, all this tech comes at a price. And it’s definitely not a small one. The front wheel will run you $1,800, and you’ll need to come up with $2,200 for the rear wheel. Yup, that’s $4,000 total. This is Zipp’s most expensive wheelset. Now Zipp does make mention of the fact that each rim requires a total of 12 hours to create, and includes hand craftsmanship in addition to advanced manufacturing tech. That’s quite a time investment.
We know that price tag is hard to swallow, and this wheelset is certainly not for everyone. But if you have the budget and are looking for stability and speed, the 454 NSW should definitely be on your short list.